SKOPJE, Macedonia (9 November, 2017) – The Republic of Macedonia, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the United States Embassy in Macedonia co-hosted the Partnership for Peace Consortium’s (PfPC) Combating Terrorism Working Group (CTWG). The CTWG led a cutting-edge simulation exercise entitled “Foreign Terrorist Fighters: Promoting Prevention and Resilience,” from November 7 to November 9, 2017.
The three-day workshop brought together 100 international and regional counterterrorism and security experts and government ministers from over 30 countries to explore the emerging threats of foreign terrorist fighters and returnees emanating from Europe’s Southern periphery. The event explored concepts related to broadened partnership efforts, comprehensive strategies and approaches, enhanced information-sharing and strengthened border security, inter alia. The participants developed a comprehensive set of policy and programmatic recommendations to support Macedonia and regional partners in enhancing capabilities and cross-border collaboration through an interactive tabletop exercise (TTX) based on current trends and intelligence.
The seminar began with opening remarks from H.E. Zoran Zaev, Prime Minister of the Republic of Macedonia, H.E. Jess Baily, U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia, H.E. Nina Suomalainen, Head of the OSCE Mission to Skopje, Mr. Borche Petrevski, National CT/CVE Coordinator, Republic of Macedonia, and Mr. Richard Prosen, U.S. Department of State and CTWG Co-Chair. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev stressed, “This conference is one of the most effective methods that allows us to fight the radical terrorism that threatens all human kind.” He added, “The fight against these threats should not know any nationality or religion – we must fight this threat as one.”
A discussion panel entitled “Contemporary Threats and Challenges to International Security” included: Mr. Filip Stojkovski, Senior Advisor at the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Macedonia; Prof. Frosina Remenski, the elected Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security of the Republic of Macedonia; Mr. Arben Ramkaj, President of the Interreligious Council, Elbasan; and Dr. Edit Schlaffer, Founder, Women Without Borders. The panel was moderated by the PfPC-CTWG co-chair, Dr. Peter Forster, Associate Dean, Pennsylvania State University. Mr. Stojkovski summarized the panel’s deliberations nicely when he emphasized the need for all relevant actors, such as local municipalities and NGOs, to focus on countering violent radicalization. He urged, “Only through a holistic approach can we unravel factors that could lead to violent extremism, address them, and then work on strengthening societal resilience.”
The TTX objectives TTX were to: 1) discuss strategic threats and policy issues related to the foreign terrorist fighter phenomenon; 2) increase awareness of threats and the need for interagency, regional, and international cooperation; 3) promote information-sharing in bilateral and multilateral formats; 4) increase and improve public-private partnerships and civil society coordination for a whole-of-society approach to current and future threats; and 5) develop practical and sustainable communication strategies, policies, and programs.
The seminar promoted the development of multi-modal communications tools, tactics, and messages to promote positive narratives and counter foreign terrorist fighter narratives; policy recommendations and responses at the local, national, and international levels regarding improving border control and promoting community policing concepts; and programmatic development areas at the local, national, and international levels including community engagement and criminal justice rehabilitation and reintegration measures.
The workshop allowed participants to develop innovative approaches, make real-time decisions, and discuss recommended courses of action in a post-simulation forum. The CTWG’s interactive TTX utilizes a case study and role play methodology to help participants devise effective strategies, formulate policy recommendations, and develop programmatic responses in a not-for-attribution, facilitated dialogue format.
At the conclusion of the workshop, Macedonia’s National Coordinator for CT/CVE Skopje, Mr. Borche Petrevski stated: “We’ve learned that Countering Terrorism and Countering Violent Extremism has to come to the field of prevention as a whole-of-society approach, to involve every member of society, and that’s one of the benefits of this exercise -- because we’ve raised awareness in our society and the region, and because of the need to look at this problem from the regional level and work together.”
The event’s success led Kosovo’s National CVE Coordinator, Mr. Lulzim Fushtica, who participated in the event, to express strong interest in the implementation of a TTX for Kosovo in the near future. Mr. Fushtica noted: “I think seeing how it functioned here in Macedonia, it will be very significant also for Kosovo authorities to … have a similar event in Kosovo to see where we are lacking in capacity. Mr. Fusthica noted that if Kosovo has an opportunity to exercise their approach in fighting terrorism under a similar simulation, they would “see how the whole system and all the stakeholders (intergovernmental but also civil society) are functioning and assess current and potential gaps. When we see the gaps then we can work on implementing the best practices.”
Mr. Eric Manton, Chief of Monitoring Unit, OSCE Skopje, emphasized the bonds that the TTX built among regional partners: “…bringing all of the different officials of the government agencies that are relevant for CVE efforts, plus the regional experts from Kosovo and from Albania -- has allowed better communication and better coordination, and the main thing is that it has built trust and confidence in each other, which they can use then for their everyday work as it moves forward.”
Key takeaways from the event will be compiled into actionable policy recommendations for senior leaders on current challenges and threats facing The Republic of Macedonia and regional partners. The CTWG, one of the PfPC’s nine working groups, is a multinational think tank of internationally recognized terrorism specialists organized to better understand international, regional, and domestic terrorist and violent extremist threats, to educate and train future military, civilian, and other leaders engaged in counterterrorism efforts, and to provide policy analysis to national-level decision-makers.
The PfPC operations staff is co-located with the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. The Marshall Center’s Director, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Keith Dayton, is the chairman for PfPC’s Senior Advisory Council, which governs the PfPC and meets annually to guide the PfPC’s strategic direction. (Photos by Karl-Heinz Wedhorn, GCMC)